May 24, 2008

Scav Embraces Antique Cultures

Let it never be said that the ScavHunt does not embrace history. Indeed, Scav revels and frolics in history.

(Right about now I'm somewhere in the midst of my sister's wedding, but I'm writing this the morning before I leave. Thus, it's weekend photo filler time!)

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For the ScavParty, the FIST was assigned Vikings. We are good at being Vikings, so all was well. Sadly, the Powers That Be disallowed mead, but we did bring the ship. Yes, that thing in the background is a mast.
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For one of the more disturbing items this year, allow me to introduce Mouse-ho-tep. Yup, that's a mouse that's been carefully mummified according to Pharonic-era Egyptian burial procedures (although we skimped on the 40-day embalming, for obvious reasons). Complete with tiny organs in tiny canopic jars. Janice is probably going to be scarred for life, but click to enlarge if you want to check out her handiwork.
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We were somewhat less strict in observing correct practices when we made a mummy out of Sam. Heavens, I don't think we embalmed him at all!

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May 22, 2008

Rube Goldberg

With all this talk of ScavHunt, I feel the need to declare that you shouldn't need an excuse to be creative and off-the-wall. However, considering how daily life will conspire to suck you into routines, it never hurts to have one. That was one of the key motivating observations behind the founding of the Scavenger Hunt -- the idea that University of Chicago students get so enmeshed in studies and other forms of directed thought, that they desperately needed an outlet, to be prodded into completely unproductive (from the viewpoint of academics, anyway) wild creativity.

This is hardly controversial, and this need is also hardly limited to college students.

Here in Minneapolis, there is an outfit called Leonardo's Basement that has been around for a while, doing K-12 enrichment-type programs aimed at, basically, getting kids to imagine things, and then make them. ("Mixing art, science and technology," as the website says. Hey, that's kind of my childhood in a nutshell, except more tax-exempt.) They have (as the name suggests) a delightful basement space under a coffee shop, which, when I first saw it, struck me as the template for the ultimate ScavHunt team headquarters. I may, in fact, have drooled a little. Also, immediately reverted to about age twelve for a bit.

More recently, they spawned an offshoot project for adults called Studio Bricolage. This takes the form of themed art-and-technology project parties once a month. Frequently the theme has been a material -- plastics, ice, pumpkins -- accompanied by area artists showing off what you can do with the medium; attendees are encouraged to make something of their own with some help from the Studio. However, my favorite one so far (and not just because I actually managed to show up that night) was the Rube Goldberg Party.

I rather liked this one because it was so open-ended and ambitious in scope -- breaking up into groups of two or three, each group set out to build a component of a Rube Goldberg machine, using whatever came to hand from among the Studio's considerable supplies. The only real requirement was that each segment could be activated by the piece before, and could activate the piece after; thus the only coordination needed was that you talk to your neighbors.

While I did notice some glitches that wouldn't fly in any real Scav team's headquarters (for instance, they had several drills but almost no bits; or the shelf full of staples and staple-guns, but none that matched the other), in true Scav form we managed to get everything to come together and work at the last possible moment. The video above shows the final run, which actually did work from end to end, even though the footage has been spliced a bit to show some bits more clearly. Below, check out some raw-er footage of the test run about twenty minutes before that.

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May 17, 2008

Scav08

You may have noticed the "scav08" tag at the bottom of each ScavHunt 2008 post. It was suggested on the Judges' blog that, this being the networked, tagged, Web 2.0 world that it is, everyone use a common tag when putting up blog posts, pictures, video, or what have you. And it's working! Flickr and YouTube have a fair amount of content under the tag already.

But I suggest just Googling for Scav08. For one thing, that will pick up people not using the most popular photo/video sharing sites. For another, you'd have found this blog that way, too.

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The Plan

When most people think of a scavenger hunt, what they typically imagine bears only a passing resemblance to The University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt. Mostly, I think, because the scale of the thing so comprehensively exceeds any scavenger hunt you might remember from that middle school trip to the science museum. The scavenger hunt is a common and quite effective activity for engaging youth with any kind of curated collection, because it asks them to use a set of clues as a pattern through which to filter the exhibits, and thus requires them to mentally touch upon a large portion of the collection to find the items that match. The base rubric for this type of activity can be summarized as: a set of clues, each of which identifies a unique item from a collection of many in a non-obvious fashion.

Another widespread format for the common scavenger hunt is the chained puzzle quest. In this variant, an initial clue leads to a location or a challenge, from which a further clue can be extracted, yielding a chain of clues ultimately leading to a prize for the first to finish the chain. This type is a bit more work for the organizer, since the clues usually need to be physically seeded ahead of time, and the clues need to be more carefully conceived, since a failure of one could break the chain and prevent everyone from finishing. Thus, this type is more likely to be remembered as a party game, since educators aren't especially looking to make more work for themselves.

I bring this up because of item 119: Execute The Plan. Remember what I said about the scale of The Scavenger Hunt as compared to most scavenger hunts? As it turns out, this item (along with an initial clue hidden in another item) was an entire chained puzzle quest of its own, spanning both the internet and a large swath of southside Chicago. Now that the Hunt is over, at the 2008 Judges' blog there is an excellent walkthrough of this moderately complex ScavHunt item.

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Photo of the picture on the back of the Judges' shirts this year, courtesy Emily G.

Octo-Lincoln, for those not in the know, was the most "disagreeable" member of the 2006 roadtrip team. To review, I quote from the 2006 list:

Only one team of seasoned road warriors can successfully deliver Item #142 to his destination: the Mutant Presidents! Shunned by Beltway insiders because of the monstrous appearance, these contorted commanders-in-chief have taken to the backcountry byways on a trip of Wasteward Expansion. Mutant Presidents, sound off! Jabba the Taft! George W. Bush with Kuato Cheney! A Martin Van Buren that's more sideburn than man! And of course, Octo-Lincoln! In their trusty vehicle, the President Ford, they travel America in search of adventure.

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May 13, 2008

Making

It's amusing that the Scavenger Hunt took place at the same time as the latest Maker Faire, which I notice has been entertainingly written up in the Times today. The Faire, for those not familiar, is a relatively recent offshoot of MAKE: magazine, the unofficial trade journal of the rapidly growing do-it-yourself movement / subculture / ethos. It's been described as a Burning Man for the nerdcore set that has little interest in "hippie" spirituality, but when I look at it, I mostly see Scavenger Hunt -- minus a written list, for people with more free time and money on their hands than college students can generally muster.

More specifically, the Maker Faire pretty closely mirrors the ambition and aesthetic behind the "big projects" flavor of ScavHunt item. Tell me, if you can, which of these are ScavHunt items and which are Maker Faire exhibits in this list:

  • A home-forged sword
  • Go-carts that look like cupcakes
  • Drag racers out of Mario Kart
  • Combat robots battle to the death
  • A Victorian mansion on wheels
  • A steam-powered electric guitar
  • Combat Zorbs battle to the death
  • A theramin...
  • ...powered by a Tesla coil

I could go on for a while like that. In fact, there are a number of Maker Faire exhibits that I'd be delighted to see as ScavHunt items (and don't think the judges aren't aware of it -- there are a few items I'm pretty sure they found by reading MAKE or someplace similar). However, the whole affair seems a bit empty without all those other flavors of ScavHunt item -- the ridiculous stunts, the unexpected performance art, the actual art. Somehow the tar-and-feather gun means a little less if there isn't also the Egon painting hanging there as well.

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Item 258: A tar gun. A feather gun.
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Item 181: Egon Spengler, painted in the style of Egon Schiele.

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May 12, 2008

Long Live the Tent

I'm back in Minnesota now and, to my utter lack of surprise, I didn't have any time to blog during the last two days of the Hunt. At that point, minutes (whether of work or, much more rarely, sleep) are pretty valuable. But I took a goodly number of pictures that I'll be sharing over the next who knows how long.

A large chunk of chaos on Judgment Day had relatively little to do with the end of the Hunt, in fact. Instead, a storm blew through that morning. Not terribly heavy, but quite windy. Especially in certain places where the campus buildings seem to channel the wind. Much like the site where we located our Tent Headquarters.

In the end nobody was hurt; I'll say that up front. But sometime overnight while I was away working on a Zeusaphone, the apex rope started to give and the roof began to collect water. It was a bit of a shock to walk in and find a small swimming pool suspended before me (and a few sleeping teammates) at eye level -- keep in mind that originally the tent roof was about twelve feet high -- and the frame creaking and sagging under the weight. Not as shocked as the person asleep under said pool once we woke him up, though. Thankfully we happened to have a bunch of PVC pipe on hand, so I was able to very quickly jury-rig some drainage and empty the roof. (I did get some horrified looks when, facing hundreds of gallons of rainwater suspended in a tarp above our heads, I got set to slash it open. But it did work! And I did wait until after we'd cut the power, just in case.)

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We at first tried to bolt the frame back together; here SPH has just about given up on that and decided to manually hold up the wall until we got everything out.

The damage was already done, though, and shortly thereafter joints started giving way to the wind. We held things together as best we could while we evacuated stuff in rough order of risk: people, computers, items to be judged, power tools, personal effects, etc. A couple of truckloads later (thank heavens for the Moomers pickup) we decided that everything left was either worthless or could fend for itself and abandoned ship.

That being said, we still had a blast this year; the tent thing is now just a particularly awesome story to tell (the capstone to the tale of how we're so hardcore that we ran a Scavhunt team out of a TENT) and proof that when we fail, we only ever do so spectacularly.

In the end, we took 7th place this year (results at the Judges' site). That's a step down from our usual slot as perennial third, but we don't mind, because that was getting boring and one of the FIST's core motives is to shake things up. We were pleased to see the Burton-Judson team, a long-running underdog, really step up their game this year and take 3rd place for themselves. We were also beaten by the GASH, a new coalition of grad students, alumni, and others, but we don't mind that either, because we like them. Many once played for the FIST. When I stopped into their headquarters (a rented abandoned storefront -- also totally sweet) they were as sorry to see me go as anyone on my own team.

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What was left of Tent-HQ when we got back from Judgment, after we pulled back the tarp.

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May 9, 2008

The Awesome

So I forgot to mention: in case you hadn't found it already, the ScavHunt list is posted at the official site now. It's shorter than normal, partly because our ScavWarrior (who has been summarily abducted to Vegas) is working through her own list in places remote, and partly because there are more big project items this year. Having less than 300 items to keep track of is not a bad thing. Especially because so many of them are awesome.

Incidentally, the Judges are also blogging the Hunt. The site was created a few days ago, but only got interesting once the Hunt started.

I think the coolest thing I'm going to be directly involved with is going to be the "Zeusaphone" (although ours will be significantly less precise and more jury-rigged than the one in the video). Tesla coils always make for a fun project. We're starting by replicating the coil I built for Scavhunt 2006, which turned out not visually very impressive, but to be the World's Loudest (-ish) Thing. It also had a knack for punching holes in glass insulators and incinerating the things you were trying to wirelessly power with it. Ah, technology!

However, the item that's got everybody worked up at the moment is more of a show-and-tell.

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Judge Jess in front of the GASH's effort.

Apparently sometime this year, the Judges were all out on the road and saw one of these driving on the highway beside them, and collectively lost it. So they made a bet that the Scavvies couldn't bring them one. Thus, item 51: a De Lorean.

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The FIST's effort: the De Lorean we found didn't have any plates. Thus unroadworthy, we instead went to the car. Notice the banner of the Ill-Advised Potato. This dates back to 2003, when we were named "Deleuzean Potato" and managed to capture this banner from some University event and modify it to our needs. Not visible: the Chinese lettering on the back that reads "Bad-idea potato".

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May 8, 2008

Day One in Tent-HQ

The tent-quarters is turning out to be a remarkable thing. Roomy and actually fairly warm during the day, it's kind of odd to be planning and building in a room whose walls are constantly flapping and whipping to and fro. It's a good thing we built it to be sturdy, though, because this giant thing catches an awful lot of wind.

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FIST Tent-HQ from afar -- that's a pretty good-sized tent for duct tape, tarp, and PVC.

As far as actual scavenging goes, it seems like we got off to a slow start but we're ramping up pretty quickly. Things are in motion for most of the events, from human Pac-Man in the stacks in a few hours, to initial planning for the big cooking items on Saturday. While we have the skills to pull off most of the big engineering projects (guitar maglev, sword forging, Zeusaphone, etc.) we need to figure out which ones we actually have the manpower to pull off.

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The view from inside. It's like a TARDIS in here. Also, apparently we like art.

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May 7, 2008

T - 5 Hours, and the Open Team

Not much photogenic happening today. List release is in about five hours, and today has been a day of frantic gathering. Gathering of resources, gathering in of people from parts far flung, gathering of mental and spiritual reserves. I spent most of the day frantically programming, first on an overnight bus, then at a Panera downtown, but mostly at Moomers, the apartment named after a long-gone cat.

The tent-headquarters project is coming along, despite the soggy conditions today. I don't know if it will be inhabitable in time for list release, but it's going to be a tremendously impressive thing. We're talking 400 or so square feet of workspace, with power, heat, reasonably impermeable roof and walls, probably wood flooring. Since we're situated not in some building but in a relatively open structure in the middle of a heavily-trafficked quad, the judges were concerned and issued threats of dire consequence should ne'er-do-wells sabotage our exposed workings. We issued a counter-message: come one, come all, rival teams and bystanders alike, and see how a real ScavHunt team works.

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May 6, 2008

Poetry Slamming

At present I'm on the long bus ride to Chicago, probably somewhere in the midst of Wisconsin, zooming on towards morning. Sadly, this is probably the best night's sleep I will get for the rest of the week. But thanks to the magic of delayed posting, I can continue to entertain you all.

A long standing pre-ScavHunt tradition is to completely clog up official lines of communication by inundating the mailing list used by Judges and team captains with trash talk.

This year the FIST's enthusiastic trash talker SPH started mixing things up a bit by posting a limerick, and thus Tuesday's theme was established. Many limericks followed, of generally high creativity, extremely low taste, and variable adherence to the usual forms. My favorite post, a honest-to-goodness trash talk villanelle, comes from McFall, also of the FIST. Thankfully, unlike much of the poetry posted so far, it in insufficiently vulgar to prevent me from sharing it here.

By way of background, FIST, GASH, Snitchcock, and Palevskites all refer to teams (my own, the Graduate/Alumni ScavHunt team, and the dorm teams of Snell-Hitchcock and Max Palevsky halls).

Run, hide, and pray! The FIST comes fiercely smashing:
Preceded by its awesome furry guts,
Heroic clerics strike, shuriken flashing.

Inferior teams bewail the coming thrashing,
And wish their mothers weren't all such huge sluts.
Run, hide, and pray! The FIST comes fiercely smashing.

Defying monied whores and faithless GASHing,
Eschewing Snitchcock's blind and cliquish ruts,
Heroic clerics strike, shuriken flashing.

Palevskites, helpless first-years cruelly lashing
With studded whips that leave red oozing cuts:
Run, hide, and pray! The FIST comes fiercely smashing.

Explosions bloom like helicopters crashing
As the valiant FIST in wreaths of glory struts;
Heroic clerics strike, shuriken flashing.

Behold the way its sleepless eyes are flashing,
See with what strength its fearsome forebrain juts:
Run, hide, and pray! the FIST comes fiercely smashing;
Heroic clerics strike, shuriken flashing.

Not from a FIST author, but still pretty cool, is JPL's "Scav Sonnet 1, or Ode to Max Big Projects". Named are a few more teams (Big Projects being the Max team's, er, engineering division) and a couple of supposedly notorious judges:

There once were some scavvies, Big Projects no less
Who had a slight problem, I will now confess
Since the were Max, they had gumption and skill
But lacked only tools, no hammer, no drill.

But casting about they found some quite soon
Two feigning judgeship, but really buffoons
Jfunk Williams and his partner Will Dietz
Who cared not for scav but only mad beats

And looking but further, they saw a tooly MacPiercer
Whose zeal for good rhymes was a tiny bit fiercer**
And finally they found, the crown of their set
The grad student FISTy, the tooliest yet

Thus well equipped, their toolbox o’erflowing
They picked up their list and swiftly got going
With no strandbeest to make, they easily triumphed
Hmm. Nothing really rhymes with triumphed

**One last thing, afore I forget.
I didn’t steal your rhyme, I scavenged it.

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Blogging the Hunt

Okay, every few years I try this, and it rarely works as well as I'd like, but let's give it another shot.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the next few days I will be in Chicago engaging in the general merriment and mayham known as the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt. The list will be released midnight Thursday morning (and should appear at the official site soon afterwards, replacing the parody placeholder list currently there), but Wednesday will be pretty busy. For one thing, my team (the Lush Puppies mark VIII: FIST point Set:...:Heroic Furry Gut Monks -- the name just keeps on growing) is still working out where it will be headquartered, among other things. The presently leading option is to erect a giant tent on one of the University quads. I don't mean this facetiously, either -- this is actually the option we are currently most likely to take.

Obviously, this is going to be awesome. Time permitting, I'm going to try and bring you all along for the ride.

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